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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Calm Under Pressure - Planning for the unexpected helps Patricia Healy manage during crises

"During a crisis, it's not uncommon for otherwise quiet, unassuming managers to become the glue - the connectors - that hold everything else together. These people do not typically get the glory or the headlines, yet their influence leaves an indelible imprint. At the Agriculture Department, that kind of imprint is one that colleagues associate with Patricia Healy.

Unsung hero. Team player. Courageous. Compassionate. These are some of the words Healy's co-workers use to describe her.

Healy is Agriculture's deputy chief financial officer. Yet her response in the face of trials and disasters has earned her additional distinction in a role that executives often find themselves in - crisis managers. Her managerial style also highlights the importance of preparation and communication when the unexpected occurs.

Healy is quick to deflect credit to her colleagues for some of the department’s most herioc efforts.

But by all accounts, she played a pivotal role in USDA’s response during the sweeping disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina. The focus of the response was the National Finance Center in New Orleans, a unit of the department, which handles payroll operations for thousands of federal employees. While Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city last year, NFC managed to rush out the payroll for more than half a million federal workers on time (Government Leader, March/April 2006, Page 26).

When Katrina hit, the department was in the middle of its year-end accounting, Healy said. Some of USDA’s financial feeder systems and accounting operations were also located in New Orleans. “We were able to recover our systems and operations, close our books, produce statements, provide auditors with the samples and responses they needed, and meet the Office of Management and Budget’s deadline to provide our Performance and Accountability Report 45 days after year-end close—and all despite Katrina.” "

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